Rajasthan’s Mautana tradition a key issue in tribal sub plan areas - Hindustan Times

Rajasthan’s Mautana tradition a key issue in tribal sub plan areas

Dec 02, 2023 02:38 PM IST

In the Mautana (compensation for death) tradition, upon a person’s demise, the body is placed in front of the house of village leaders, officials or the individual deemed responsible for a week or more, awaiting resolution. In the past, seeking vengeance by harming a relative of the accountable person was commonplace

Maksi Pargi, a tribal labourer employed on a farm in Bedwa village in the Simalwara tehsil of Dungarpur district in Rajasthan, shows his reluctance by sharply shaking his head in disapproval when approached for his views on Mautana.

 (Representative Photo)
(Representative Photo)

“Talking on such sensitive topics can only get you into trouble. It is a very personal matter, and if I talk about someone from my village, he will not come to support me when someone close to me dies in this fashion,” he explains.

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“And, what’s the point? There was an incident in our village recently. The family of the victim, who died in a road accident, placed his body outside the house of the person responsible. A compromise was reached. But in the end, the deceased person’s relative received only about half of the promised 5 lakh.”

When asked about the fate of the remaining amount, he said, “You are asking me? How would I know? There are so many middlemen and big people who take their cut.”

This narrative gives a glimpse into the intricate challenges and complexities surrounding the Mautana system in the tribal area which was recently discouraged by the Rajasthan government by introducing a law.

In the Mautana (compensation for death) tradition, upon a person’s demise, the body is placed in front of the house of village leaders, officials or the individual deemed responsible for a week or more, awaiting resolution. In the past, seeking vengeance by harming a relative of the accountable person was commonplace. However, in recent years, there has been a shift, discouraging the practice of revenge.

For the last many years, the focus has transitioned to seeking financial compensation as a resolution to the situation.

On November 11 in the Kotra area of Udaipur, relatives of a man who died by suicide set fire to two houses belonging to his in-laws, demanding compensation of 6 lakh. The incident occurred in Umriya village when an armed group attacked and burned down the houses, seeking Mautana, as per police officials.

The episode followed the suicide of Sarwan Dama at his in-laws’ house a few days earlier. Alleging it to be murder, Sarwan’s relatives protested, refusing to allow a postmortem on the body. Villagers intervened, negotiating a compensation amount of 1.6 lakh. After receiving the agreed sum, the protestors allowed the police to conduct the postmortem, and the body was cremated with police presence, said officials.

However, the deceased man’s relatives later attacked the in-laws’ houses again. Various items like utensils, televisions, and beds were destroyed, but no casualties were reported as no one was present during the attack. Bhaniya Bumdiya, the victim, has filed a complaint against about a dozen people, prompting an ongoing investigation into the matter.

The practice of Mautana, a form of seeking monetary relief for the immediate family members of a deceased person, is on the rise among tribal communities in Udaipur and surrounding areas including Dungarpur and Banswara districts. This tradition is commonly invoked when someone is killed, demanding compensation for the loss.

On November 7, in Jhadol’s Magwaas village the family of a 54-year-old woman, who had committed suicide, demanded 2 lakh as ‘Mautana’ from her in-laws. Alleging coercion by her in-laws as the reason for her suicide, the family staged a protest, initially refusing to permit a postmortem.

The Kotra police intervened, registering a case based on the son’s report. The woman had hanged herself in her in-laws’ house, and after negotiations, the family agreed to 2 lakhs as compensation, allowing the police to conduct the postmortem. No, the protestors did not get money.

In a separate incident in August at Kotra village, the relatives of a youth found dead from hanging protested for Mautana compensation. Despite police investigations, the relatives, dissatisfied with the actions taken, protested for over 10 days, demanding the arrest of the accused and compensation. Eventually, they buried the deceased without allowing a postmortem.

The victim, Bhamla, had travelled to Gujarat for work but was found hanging in Kotra upon his return. The family lodged an FIR, claiming murder, yet the body remains buried without postmortem due to ongoing dissatisfaction with the investigation, said a person familiar with the matter. Deputy Sp Kotra Rameshwar Lal said, “A case has already been registered against more than 12 people an investigation is underway, and culprits will be arrested soon”.

In July of this year, the Rajasthan Assembly approved the Rajasthan Honour of Dead Body Bill, 2023, which specifically addresses and aims to deter protests involving dead bodies. The legislation carries penalties for such acts, including imprisonment for a period ranging from six months to five years. Anyone found participating in a protest with a dead body, whether on roads, outside police stations, or any other public place, may be subject to both incarceration and a fine.

From 2014 to 2018, there were 82 reported incidents where families protested by sitting with the dead body, resulting in 30 police cases, as per data shared in the assembly by Rajasthan Parliament Affairs Minister Shanti Dhariwal. Between 2019 and 2023, the frequency of such incidents surged to 306, leading to the lodging of 91 police cases, he told the Assembly in July.

In the Chikhali village of Dungarpur, Tejsingh Chouhan who worked as a car driver earlier and is now working as a farm labourer says he supports Mautana tradition as it allows tribals to fight against injustice. “All the rich people get away with using money. What is wrong if poor people get some compensation to carry on with their lives after losing their loved ones? We do not have the time or resources to go to police or courts and seek justice,” said Chouhan.

According to a tribal who did not wish to be named, there have been many instances of misuse of this tradition. “But there are genuine cases too,” he added.

Leaders of The Bharatiya Tribal Party and Bharatiya Adivasi Party, which are contesting in all the 17 seats in the Tribal Sub Plan areas, said they will oppose the Honour of the Dead Body Act passed in the Rajasthan assembly in July.

“A few months ago, there was a conference with Gujarat and Rajasthan police officials where the discussion had taken place about Mautana. They assured us that funds will be allocated for accidental cases by the two governments and that the families of those who died in road accidents will be duly compensated. Nothing has been done so far by any of the governments. Only middlemen have emerged instead,” said Velaram Ghogra, president of BTP in Rajasthan.

In some of the tribal belts of Gujarat including Himmatnagar, a similar practice is in a place called Chadotaru.

Ghogra claimed that the new Act has heightened the vulnerabilities of the tribal population in Rajasthan, exposing them to severe injustices. The community is grappling with profound inequities, and protesting with the deceased is often a response to resist the injustices imposed by the affluent classes on the poor tribals, he added.

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